A federal judge in Atlanta recently held in Strickland v. Alexander, No. 1:12-CV-02735-MHS (N.D. Ga. Sept. 8, 2015) that Georgia’s garnishment statute is unconstitutional. The case came about after Tony Strickland’s bank account, holding his worker’s compensation settlement, was garnished in Gwinnett County by a credit card company. Certain monies/property, however, such as workers’ compensation benefits and Social Security benefits, are off limits to garnishments. Mr. Strickland was not given notice or an opportunity to claim an exemption on the money in his account, including his workers’ compensation benefits, before the account was garnished. As a result of the improper garnishment, Mr. Strickland, who has cancer, was unable to undergo a needed surgery and seek medical treatment for 115 days.
As for employers, the main question is how should they proceed? The answer, employers should continue to garnish as usual, keeping in mind to only garnish monies, such as wages, that are subject to garnishment, until instructed by a Court otherwise. Employers who elect to stop all garnishment activity run the risk of falling into default. Most importantly, Georgia’s garnishment law provides a safe harbor to garnishees who make a good faith effort to comply with a summons of garnishment. O.C.G.A. § 18-4-92.1(b). Because a garnishment action is ultimately a Court order on the garnishee to garnish a defendant’s property, the garnishee/employer should continue to do so unless notified by the Court otherwise. If you have any questions about garnishment law in Georgia or other developments affecting employers, please contact Justin R. Barnes, at BarnesJR@Jacksonlewis.com, or Erin J. Krinsky, at Erin.Krinsky@Jacksonlewis.com, both in the Atlanta office of Jackson Lewis P.C.